Friday, March 27, 2015

A Surprising Pearl

Have you ever been surprised by Scripture? I was recently surprised by a connection I saw between a passage in 1 Peter and a very short, very familiar parable Jesus told that is recorded in Matthew.
The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Matt 13:45-46 NIV)
Jesus does not directly explain or interpret this parable like He does with some of the others, so there is a bit of wiggle room for interpretation. I have always been taught that this parable teaches about our need to sacrifice everything for the great worth we find in Jesus and the Kingdom of God. The Faithlife Study Bible notes on this parable say that in this parable, “Jesus exhorts His hearers to do whatever it takes to enter [the Kingdom of God].” The Holman Concise Bible Commentary says that in this parable, Jesus describes “the inestimable value of the kingdom and the need to sacrifice whatever it takes to enter it.” While this is true, I now wonder if this is the best interpretation of this story.
I was studying a passage in 1 Peter recently when this parable and a completely different interpretation of it came to mind. Keep the parable in the back of your mind as you read the following verse:
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Pet 1:18-19 NIV).
Read how it is translated in The Voice:
You know that a price was paid to redeem you from following the empty ways handed on to you by your ancestors; it was not paid with things that perish (like silver or gold), but with the precious blood of the Anointed, who was like a perfect and unblemished sacrificial lamb” (1 Pet 1:18-19 VOI).
Is it possible that we have been looking at this parable backwards? Did we seek Jesus out or did He seek us out? Paul says that  “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8 NIV). He sought us out like the merchant sought out the pearl. And we did not purchase anything. He purchased us with the highest possible price – His life and His blood. I believe a better interpretation of this parable is that Jesus is the merchant who gave everything to purchase you and to purchase me –the church, His bride, His costly pearl purchased with His precious blood.
Warren Wiersbe is one commentator who shares this interpretation of this short parable. He says: “The pearl represents the church…Unlike most other gems, the pearl is a unity –it cannot be carved like a diamond or emerald. The church is a unity (Eph 4:4-6), even though the professing church on earth is divided…[Christ] sold all that He had to purchase His church, and nothing Satan can do will cause Him to fail. There is but one church, a pearl of great price, though there are many local churches…all true believers ought to identify with a local assembly where they can worship and serve.”
This Sunday, when you are gathered with your church family where you have an opportunity to encourage each other, and to celebrate together who God is and what He has done for you, think about the price Jesus paid for you as well as for the brother or sister next to you or across the aisle --- the price He paid for your church family. Be thankful that you are a part of such a costly and precious pearl.

Monday, March 16, 2015

In Season

What is your favorite season of the year? Maybe it's winter, when everything is blanketed with pure white, glistening snow and all the trees are bare. Maybe it's spring, when the air begins to warm after an icy cold winter and new green leaves are budding and beautiful flowers are beginning to bloom. Maybe it’s summer, when the kids are out of school, the days tend to grow lazy, and perhaps you get to head to the beach for a family vacation. I think maybe my favorite is fall, when there’s a crisp, refreshing chill in the air after a long hot summer and the leaves of the trees turn beautiful shades of yellow, orange, and red. Texas never has much fall color, so this is something I am looking forward to seeing in Colorado. Even though I arrived here too late last fall to see the fall color, I don't have to worry because I know that fall will come again.
We all know that it doesn't stay one season forever. In the midst of freezing, arctic cold days, we have hope that spring will come and the air will grow warm again. And in the midst of blistering hot summers, we have hope that fall will come and the air will grow cool and pleasant again. All of nature was created to flow in a continuous cycle of warmth and cold, of growth and rest --and not just the weather and the trees.The psalmist talks about seasons for us as well. 
Psalm 1 describes a person who strives to avoid evil and who meditates on God’s Word day and night. That person “is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither”  (Ps 1:3 HCSB). He doesn't bear fruit constantly? Jesus says something like this in John 15. He says that we are to remain in Him (avoid evil influences and meditate on God’s Word day and night like in Psalm 1) so that we will bear fruit. Do you think He expects us to constantly bear fruit, or to remain in Him regardless of life circumstances, and experience the cyclical nature of life and growth, including seasons of rest and barrenness, seasons of growth, and seasons of bearing fruit? All must be done in season. "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens" (Ecc 3:1 NIV). 
We can feel so completely useless during a pruning or resting season when we are not actively bearing fruit, but when we look at a bare tree in the winter, do we think it is useless because it is not currently loaded with fruit? Of course not! We know that the tree is currently resting and dormant, and that it must be in the proper point in the cycle of seasons in order to bear fruit as it is created to do.
When we think of “seasons of life,” we generally tend to think about spring as childhood, winter as old age, and summer and fall as the years in between. However, if we saw a tree that survived only one cycle of the seasons, we would not think that it had lived a full, productive life, nor would it have the opportunity to bear all the fruit it could have. When a tree receives a supply of water, the required nutrition and sunlight, it goes through repeated cycles of growing, bearing fruit, and resting. We do the same throughout our spiritual lives. As long as we remain in Jesus, remain planted by the Living Water (John 4:10-13), nourished by Scripture, prayer, and by doing God’s will (John 4:32-34), and if we allow Him to prune us (John 15:2), then like the tree, we will also go through seasons of life and growth –of resting and bearing fruit.

The good news is that if you are in a season you do not like, the weather will change soon. No season lasts forever. It may be winter, but spring is coming.